TIJUANA — Drawing an estimated 4,000 people to a field dedication ceremony in his former hometown Saturday, Adrian Gonzalez said he gained an appreciation for what it would mean to be the captain of Mexico’s team at the World Baseball Classic in the spring.
“You see how special it is and how much it means,” Gonzalez said.
Dodgers third baseman Luis Cruz and Gonzalez’s brother, Edgar, will also represent Mexico. Fernando Valenzuela will be the team’s pitching coach.
This will be Gonzalez’s third time playing in the tournament, which starts in early March and will force participants to sit out a part of spring training.
“It’s helped in the past,” Gonzalez said. “You get into game action. A lot of times in spring training, you’re kind of just focused on getting your swing right. When you get back from the WBC, you’re pretty much at full go.”
The last WBC was in 2009. That April, Gonzalez batted .333 with nine home runs and 20 runs batted in in 22 games for the San Diego Padres.
Gonzalez was born in San Diego but moved to Tijuana before he turned a year old. He returned to the United States when he was 10.
“I’m proud to be an American,” he said. “I was born in the U.S. But I grew up in Mexico, my parents are from Mexico, all of our customs are Mexican.”
Gonzalez has already started his off-season workouts, which include weekly training sessions with former heavyweight boxing champion Chris Byrd. Gonzalez and Byrd attend the same San Diego-area church.
“I’m doing boxing to help the explosion in my swing,” Gonzalez said. “Your cross punch and your baseball swing are pretty similar in the sense that you have to explode from your core and you have to be direct, you have to be short, you have to finish.”
Gonzalez doesn’t plan to pick up a bat until January. He said he has already spoken with new hitting coach Mark McGwire and intends to work with him in Los Angeles before the start of spring training.